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Getting better but still not quite there yet - 75%

dweeb, July 6th, 2010

Mandrake is a symphonic gothic metal band from Germany and this is their fourth studio disc. Their music is extremely heavy, crunchy and dense, often a thick, busy wall-of-sound. The songs are primarily riff-driven overlaid with the vocal melodies; indeed, most of the songs feature a nice flowing texture of changing crunchy riffs, often quite hooky and hard-rocking, and almost always dramatic and engrossing. Mandrake obviously put a lot of effort in the quality of the sound on Mary Celeste – although dense and busy, each instrument is clearly discernible: the guitars are thick and rich, the keys are huge and majestic, the drums are very hard-hitting, and the arrangements are warm and absorbing with an overall somber and brooding gothic atmosphere. Mary Celeste seems to be a concept disc about the ship Mary Celeste (which was discovered in 1872 in the Atlantic Ocean heading for the Strait of Gibraltar in full-sail, yet completely unmanned, like a ghost ship; no one knows for sure what ever happened to the crew and passengers), with most of the lyrics being quite poignant and forlorn.

Their female vocalist, Birgit Lau, has a pleasant voice but she is quite limited in range and power. She can actually be frustrating to listen to. At times she sings with an incredibly enchanting, emotive style with captivating melodies that add real beauty to the dense arrangements, but too often her singing is flat and uninspired, and she seems to be struggling to avoid being completely overwhelmed by the music. That said, she sounds much better and more consistent on Mary Celeste than she did on their earlier discs. There are very occasional warm gothic male vocals (Mandrake used to feature death vocals, but not on Mary Celeste) and some dark, sinister spoken male vocals which may be movie samples.

Mandrake features very strong and memorable song-writing on all their discs, often breath-taking in their melancholy intensity, but Birgit has not yet been able to consistently complement their arrangements with equally effective vocal melodies. She is closer than ever on Mary Celeste and this hints that their next disc may be the one that potentially catapults them to the top echelons of the gothic metal genre.